Permission to be sweet
As the season turns colder, the food gets heartier and naturally, visions of desserts dance in our heads. The sweet flavour is one of the essential five flavours, along-side salty, sour, bitter and spicy. It stimulates appetite and digestion, which makes it an important part of everybody’s diet. There is a dark side to everything however - and in excess, sugary foods can cause blood sugar imbalance, fatigue, digestive disturbance, and depressed immunity. So when better nutrition, health improvement or weight-loss are the goals, it seems this poor, misunderstood flavour gets sworn off. You say to yourself,
“I’ll never eat dessert again!” Or … “I just won’t buy any, and if it’s not in front of me I won’t eat it.” Or… “I can enjoy my food some other year.”
The abstinence lasts for a certain period of time, until one day some unfortunate, neglected taste-buds band together and refuse to be ignored any longer. They’re a powerful bunch, so let’s imagine for a moment taking the route of diplomacy; what kind of sweet balance would you strike?
Firstly, welcome sweet into your meals but don’t let it perform solo and take over. Always combine the sweet flavour with fibre, protein, and/or fat, to keep blood sugar from sky-rocketing. This is how the sweet flavour appears in nature: always in a matrix with lots of fibre, complex carbohydrates, and minerals. Only human beings extract it to get pure sugar and this has not helped our health. On the bright side, only human beings cook, which means we can combine sweetness with foods high in protein and healthy fat – for a most delicious outcome.
Doing dessert well is all about proportions. If we salted or spiced our meals as much as Nestle sugars a bar, we’d be spitting out our food. Sweeteners can be embraced in small amounts, just enough for a pleasant flavour. As your food gets less sugary, you will become more sensitive and appreciate a subtle dessert more. Portion size matters just as much, so keep desserts to a few bites rather than a plate full.
Timing is as important as dose. It is best not to eat raw fruit after a heavy meal. Raw fruit digests quickly, so it’s best to eat on an empty stomach, as part of a light snack or before a meal. However, a sweet carbohydrate treat is best eaten with protein and fat that keeps blood sugar stable. For example, a dried fruit on its own will raise blood sugar higher than a dried fruit eaten with almonds or walnuts. In fact, one of the best places for sweet food is in the main course, as a sauce, dressing or marinade. Including some sweetness in meals helps keep sweetened dessert down to a frequency of once or twice a week, which is where it belongs.
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